EC contempt case postponed as election preparations continue

Today’s hearing in the Supreme Court’s contempt charges against the Elections Commission has been postponed, as the commission continues preparations for next month’s Majlis elections.

Elections Commissioner (EC) Director General Mohamed Shakeel told Minivan News today that today’s summons order had been cancelled, and that the commission’s schedule for the March 22 polls was continuing as planned.

Meanwhile, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has described the court’s latest actions as “highly alarming”.

Majlis candidates will be assigned numbers today and Saturday, and the deadline for accepting amendments to the current voter register lists is also today.

Yesterday’s surprise hearing was adjourned after the EC’s lawyer Hussein Siraj requested the four members be given time to respond to the charges.

The MDP has accused the court of attempting to “further subvert the authority of the independent Elections Commission in the run up the Parliamentary elections due next month.”

“Today’s [February 12] arbitrary summons of the Election Commission by the Supreme Court over an allegation of contempt of court effectively turned into a trial where the Supreme Court was both the plaintiff and the judge,” read an MDP press release.

Yesterday’s proceedings were both initiated and presided over by the Supreme Court, using new suo moto regulations introduced on February 6 which allow the court to initiate trials against any organisation or individual.

The penal code – currently under review by the People’s Majlis – prescribes a sentence of six months in prison, banishment, or house arrest for contempt of court – or a fine of MVR150 (US$10).

“With respect to this Supreme Court’s history of arbitrarily interfering in the country’s election process, the MDP find the Supreme Court’s latest actions highly alarming,” said the MDP.

The press release made reference to the 16 point guideline introduced during the court’s annulment of the September 7 presidential election first round, last year.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek has previously criticised both the guidelines themselves, describing them as “impractical”, as well as the evidence used to annul the vote.

The presidential election first round had been deemed free and fair by a host of international observers, while  UN representatives have subsequently dismissed the court’s evidence and described the guidelines as “onerous”.

In October, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay accused the court of “interfering excessively” in the elections, and “subverting the democratic process”.

March’s vote will see 85 Majlis seats divided amongst 311 candidates. Shakeel explained that the EC had accepted 85 MDP candidates, 7 Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party candidates, and 122 independents.

The progressive coalition has submitted 50 Progressive Party of Maldives applications, 28 Jumhooree Party forms, and 7 from the Maldivian Development Alliance, he said. Meanwhile, estranged coalition member, the Adhaalath Party, has submitted applications for 13 constituencies.